Karnov, ZX Spectrum

The ZX Spectrum conversion of the Data East arcade game, Karnov, is a good example of a decent arcade conversion on the Spectrum.

The graphics are colourful, well-drawn, and avoid colour clash by using a black masking effect around the sprites. It’s quite a clever technique that works very well in this game.

Gameplay-wise: Karnov is an unforgiving arcade game, and this Spectrum conversion is marginally easier than its parent, helped in a perverse way by the frequent slowdown. It’s reasonable fun though and worth digging out if you like challenging platformers.

More: Karnov on Wikipedia

Labyrinth, Commodore 64

The actual, full title of this 1986 adventure game from Lucasfilm Games is Labyrinth: The Computer Game, but I’ll refer to it from now on as Labyrinth.

Labyrinth was the very first Lucasfilm Games adventure game and is based on the fantasy film of the same name – the one written by Terry Jones, directed by Jim Henson, and starring David Bowie in a big white wig.

Labyrinth is a fairly simple character-based adventure with puzzles, and mostly involves walking around talking to the various ‘beings’ that you meet, trying to solve various problems and unlocking the route forward.

It doesn’t have any of the complex puzzles or character interactions we see in later LucasArts adventures although it does establish a basic graphical style for the point-and-click genre to come. It also has a rudimentary menu system that feels a bit like an early prototype of SCUMM.

Playing the game now, it’s obviously not one of Lucasfilm Games‘ best, even though it was quite innovative for the time. Unless you’re a big fan of the film, or are interested in the evolution of LucasArts adventures, Labyrinth probably won’t hold a great deal of interest for you.

More: Labyrinth: The Computer Game on Wikipedia


H.E.R.O., ColecoVision

The ColecoVision version of the classic rescue game, H.E.R.O., looks quite similar to the Commodore 64 version, in that: the graphics are a little rough around the edges.

This being a game from 1984 (and originating on the Atari 2600), the graphic artists can be forgiven for wanting to use every colour on-screen at once. Often, home video game consoles back then had limited palettes and resolutions, and the ColecoVision was something of a leap forward in terms of graphical capabilities, so the guys at The Softworks (who converted this for Activision) tried to “sex-up” the graphics with more ‘textures’ and colours. And the result is a bit of a mess… At least by modern standards.

But don’t let that put you off, because H.E.R.O. on the ColecoVision is arguably the best version of the game around. It feels good, in terms of controls, and is relatively absorbing – even though any appeal will be limited.

More: H.E.R.O. on Wikipedia

Spindizzy Worlds, Super Nintendo

Paul Shirley‘s superb isometric puzzle/action game, Spindizzy Worlds, translates well to the Super Nintendo, even though this conversion did not have his blessing.

The SNES conversion was programmed by Japanese developer ASCII Corporation in 1992, (after acquiring the rights from Activision in a controversial deal), and it has to be said: they did a pretty good job. From the nicely presented opening sequence (complete with Mode 7 scaling planets), to the silky-smooth, full-screen scrolling – everything seems polished to the max.

Controlling the ‘spinning top’ GERALD (yes, that’s its name) is very easy, but negotiating the tortuous landscapes is not. Spindizzy Worlds contains a lot of levels to play through, all represented via a rotating cluster of planets. There are two clusters of planets to play through: “Easydizzy” and “Spindizzy” and each can be played at Beginner or Advanced levels. The final, inner planet in each cluster can only be accessed once the easier outer planets have been completed. A password system is used to record progress.

The puzzles you’re solving generally require you to collect ‘jewels’, which open gates and warps and other obstacles, but there are also various coloured button to press that change things. There are enemies, of course, but these only tend to impede you, rather than kill you. There are some killer tiles, though, that will ‘insta-kill’ you if you touch them. Falling off the edge of the course will also deduct some energy/time from you.

There’s no doubting that Spindizzy Worlds is a SNES classic. It’s original, non-violent, challenging, and great fun. Definitely one to look out for if you want a good old game to play for a few hours.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spindizzy_Worlds

Spindizzy, Apple II

I’m not sure if it’s the game or the emulator – or something else – but controlling the spinning top-like device, GERALD, in the Apple II version of Spindizzy is like trying to navigate Cape Horn in a rowing boat in the depths of winter. It’s suicidal…

The gyroscope-like central character wobbles around like a drunk skunk, with the controls giving only cursory directional motion. I’m sure it shouldn’t be like that. It’s almost impossible to negotiate the trickier parts of the landscape without precise control – you’re constantly falling off the edge, losing time. I must have a duff copy or a control mis-configuration somewhere… Bah!

Apple II Spindizzy certainly looks like the original Spindizzy (in spite of the lack of colour), and Paul Shirley‘s clever isometric world translates reasonably well to the system.

One interesting thing about the Apple II version of Spindizzy is that it was created and published without rights-holder Shirley‘s knowledge (according to sources), which contributed to an acrimonious split with publisher Activision. If true: that is very naughty of them.

More: Spindizzy on Wikipedia

Spindizzy, Commodore 64

In my mind: one of the best 8-bit games ever made. Spindizzy is part Marble Madness tribute; part completely original game, with you controlling a spinning top-like device, called GERALD, exploring a large, isometric game world that is suspended in space.

The basic idea is to explore with GERALD and collect jewels, which are found hidden around the landscape and which extend the time limit you can survive for. You can bring up a map, which shows what percentage of the landscape you’ve discovered – the ultimate goal being: to explore as much of the world as possible.

GERALD can transform into three different configurations – a ball, an inverted square pyramid (the default), and also a gyroscope. Unfortunately these are just cosmetic changes and don’t affect the gameplay in any way (an oversight in my humble opinion – more should’ve been made of them).

Spindizzy was a critical hit at the time, and a commercial success in Europe. Activision released the game in the USA, but it didn’t makes any real waves. There was an unauthorised Apple II version released in the US (by Activision, no less), which rights-holder Shirley wasn’t aware of until the mid 1990s (and which must’ve mightily pissed him off).

The original Commodore 64 version of Spindizzy is probably the one to play, although it is a very difficult game to master. There have been a number of conversions made – and most have been good – but this original version is pretty much perfect. It’s an incredible feat of programming.

More: Spindizzy on Wikipedia

Ballblazer, Atari 800

Another Lucasfilm Games‘ classic that originated on the 8-bit Atari, Ballblazer is a one-on-one, futuristic ball game played out on a giant checkerboard, with players inside floating hovercraft.

The game gives you a first-person view of the action and the aim is to get the ball and hold onto it for long enough to shoot it towards the goalposts and to score a goal. The further away from the goal you are when you score: the more points you get.

The other player can ‘hit’ you to try to get you to drop the ball, but otherwise it’s you and him in the small arena, trying to outwit each other in these weird floating ships that always snap in the direction of the ball.

Droids with various difficulty levels give a single-player game, and of course a split-screen game like Ballblazer is made for two-player games, so playing against a human opponent is where the game is best.

Ballblazer might be simple, but it is also video-gaming at its best, and this Atari 8-bit version is the daddy of them all.

Note: I previously said that the Commodore 64 version of Ballblazer was the best. It really is debatable which version is the best. The Atari version runs faster and has a neat little intro. All the 8-bit versions are top notch. Which do you prefer?

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ballblazer

Pastfinder, Atari 800

David Lubar‘s 1984 classic, Pastfinder, originated on Atari 8-bit home computers.

It’s a strange, vertically-scrolling shoot ’em up with strategic overtones. You control an unusual ship that can crawl along the ground, jump, and of course shoot bullets up the screen. The aim is to blast the enemy and retrieve the alien artefacts, all the while trying to keep radiation levels down on your ship.

In between levels you can choose which direction to explore next, and also buy supplies to increase your defences.

Pastfinder is an imaginative game that has stood the test of time well. If you can be bothered to learn how to play it properly you will probably get some serious enjoyment out of it.

Commodore 64 version of Pastfinder on The King of Grabs

More: Pastfinder on Atari Mania